I’ve been trying to think of the best way to write about the last day of the nationals. There’s a lot of angles I wanted to come from but none of them seemed to work with how I wanted it to sound. So instead of thinking about it anymore I’m just going to go through it as I remember it.
I woke up, after not a lot of sleep. I wasn’t out long or anything like that, I just didn’t sleep well. The night before, after the semifinal, we had our meeting and then Tricia MacRae and I walked over most of the course. She was running first so we were trying to do our best to learn the course. It was a left hand outrun first with an away-to-me turn back which was stressing me out because the sheep wanted to run so badly to the left hand side of the field. As if I didn’t stress enough about everything up until now. Seriously, I had to just walk away from the last few runs because I was sitting in last place to get through to the final. When you work hard and you want something so badly, seeing it almost slip out of your fingers is a devastating thing. And when the last few handlers are your friends, you just have to get out of there…. I suppose not everyone has to but I had to!
Anyway, I knew I was running late for the first run (because lets face it; as one of the only openly gay men in the sheepdog scene I had to show up looking like I meant business… it takes a bit of time to put this act together! I can’t just throw on a pullover and some wellies and call it good!) so I took out my iPad and logged onto the live stream as I was driving there… yes kids I was being bad… but for crying out loud! Its the nationals! I had to know what was going on! Don’t judge… Well I got there right as my buddy Wyatt Flemming had just finished the course! It was pretty cool to see him close the gate. You couldn’t ask for a nicer person to compete with! To me, its a mark of a great competitor and friend to see them come up and celebrate your victory with you, because they know that your win is a win for them too. At that level, I have to say that, everyone learns from each other.
From that point on I was in and out of watching. I was running and I had to give myself a few breaks where I could go laugh with friends, walk my dogs and calm my nerves. I saw Scott’s run and, aside from his second fetch, I knew it would take some beating. From that point it was run after run that was a blur for me. I’m sorry to say it, but I can’t really remember much of the rest of the final until my run. I saw Brian run his dog and was pleased to see him finish. But after that its really a blur.
What I did know was that the sheep on the first gather wanted to run straight down to the exhaust so I needed a good away to me flank. I knew that the set up for the turn back was delicate at best. The turn back required a big come bye flank which would release the pressure on the sheep allowing them to run straight to the exhaust. I wasn’t too worried about that because Nell turns back really great… usually.
When I walked to the post I had my family there, cheering me on. I had Nell by my side and I was calm in my chest. Thats not normal, being calm. We sent to the left and things looked great until she decided she knew better on the top part of the fetch…. For F@CK sake girl you haven’t missed a flank since June and you decide now is the time to take over!!!! NOT GOOD TIMING!!! Well luckily I got ahold of her and we got them back online, made the gate and had a really nice setup for the turn back. Which she didn’t take… Lets just take a moment to appreciate the art of PRACTICING! I never practice turn-backs close to a double lift trial because it tends to inspire my dogs to go looking for other sheep every time I give a hard stop. So imagine my surprise when it took me multiple turn back whistles to get her to turn her head… OMG NELL!!! THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO CHALLENGE THIS!!! But apparently she thought it was.
By the time she turned back I had assumed she might have crossed the course because of maneuvering but I kept going. The second fetch was nice, followed by a very good drive. And now we’re at the shed.
There’s a growing popularity in our sport to do the shed in a way that might be effective, but is essentially and technically wrong. I’ve always tried to do it right, which hasn’t always been successful but I’ve always tried. Which means my dog does the shedding, and its up to me to indicate which sheep to cut off. The sheep in the shed were especially tricky because once they were so determined to go towards the exhaust. I didn’t do a perfect shed, but I have to say that I was especially proud of my little Nell for cutting in exactly when I wanted her to, and doing it with courage, bravery and a sense of purpose that makes me very proud. Later, in a blog post, it was said that it was nice to see the international shed being done right, with the dog doing the work. That was a great compliment….
I took the point loss of switching sides to get my last three sheep off, knowing that is a deduction, but it was worth it. We got the last three off and I ran to the pen.
Nell is one of my favorite shedding dogs I’ve ever worked because I can ask her for a miracle and she delivers. I’ve only ever seen that a few times, and its a special moment when you get to see it. Not saying we won’t have bad moments in the future but she’s one of the few that I can be brave and risky with and she seems to pull it off.
From that moment we went to the pen. “Okay ladies, its simple, just walk in the damned pen and you’re free for a long time!” They took some convincing, Nell stood her ground a few times and I had a minor stroke but they eventually went in, with me slamming the gate and leaning down to hug my amazing dog! God I love her… Just writing this makes me a bit teary eyed… Cause, lets face it, she’s amazing to me. I don’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks about her but I love her and I wouldn’t exchange her for any dog.
Walking off the field, in the middle of a ton of applause, noise, screams and all that comes with that, you get a sense of pride for the teamwork you just showed everyone. It gives you a sense of pride that I really can’t describe. All I can say is that at one point I bent down, picked Nell up and carried her off the field with the biggest smile I’ve ever had. I knew that I had just had the best showing at a National that I’d ever had. That’s a great feeling!
As soon as I walked off I was asked to do an interview with Vicky Close from Farm Diggity. I was happy to do it but I really don’t remember what I said. I love what she does to keep the sheepdog community involved and interested. But I have to say that I was so elated that when she was asking me questions, I really didn’t know what they were or the answers were. So I’m sorry for the ramblings.
It turned out that I was reserve to Scott Glen, who is a great friend and an awesome competitor. Being in the company of greatness is a privilege that is afforded to few. The last time I was behind him at a National was in 2001 when Alasdair won with Bill, Scott was second with Fly and I was third with Heidi. It was my first time in the finals.
The thing is if you’re going to do great things and yet still come second to someone then you should come second to someone you respect. I’m fortunate for that. One of my favorite moments ever was when Scott was getting photographed for being champion and he called me over to share the spotlight. We sat there for a minute and almost at the same time, we put an arm around each other and I got to share the spotlight with someone who I have had a great amount of respect for, for a very long time. Thank you for sharing that moment with me. We have two pretty great bitches, and its nice to share that spotlight for a minute. But its even nicer that you shared your moment with me… Thank you
This year meant so much to me for so many reasons. First off; my family was able to come and see the things I do with my dogs. My dad hasn’t been able to come for a long time and it was especially special to me to get to do so well with him in the audience. I had a cousin, an uncle, an aunt some little cousins and my mom in the audience. Thats pretty effing cool to have when you do well. I had more international support than I’ve ever had, and thank you to everyone all over the globe who sent out messages of support.
I spent the rest of the night with great friends, singing stupid songs and eating good food. Not a bad way to end a national! Thanks to those MaCrazy people for all that you’ve done for me, all that you do for me and, most of all, your friendship.
The thing that I am most happy about is that I got to work with my little dog on a global stage, once again, to be able to show our partnership. She continues to amaze me. Every day she shows a dedication and love that even the best stalker would be jealous of!
Thank you to everyone who’s been so supportive. Thank you so much! Much love to you
“And thats all I have to say about that” F. Gump for now….